DAVAO CITY – Some leaders of tribal evacuees here claimed they received death threats after a supposed rescue operations by police officers and government agencies failed to remove them from a church compound here, a human rights group said.

The human rights group Karapatan said the threats were sent through a series of text messages and “accuse the evacuees of being supporters of the NPA [New People’s Army].”

“I received a text two days ago. It told me that the Alamara (Army-formed paramilitary group) knew that in reality, we were supporters of the NPA,” said Benito Bay-ao.

Bay-ao is one of the Datus (traditional leader) of the Ata-Manobo organization Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon (let us unite to defend our ancestral land), whose 700 members in Talaingod and Kapalong, Davao del Norte and the other Lumads from Bukidnon, left their homes for Davao City since March amid alleged Army abuses.

“It further said that if ‘they’ enter here (UCCP Haran), we won’t just be beaten up. We would be killed,” Bay-ao said.

Karapatan said “some messages even challenge the evacuees to a one-on-one fight with the anonymous people sending the messages.”

Karapatan also said that Palo, a youth leader from Kapalong, said that he had received text threats only two days after the incident in last July.

Violence erupted last month when North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco, chairperson of the House committee on indigenous peoples, directed the police to assault the UCCP compound to “rescue” the tribal evacuees. Only the arrival of Davao City Vice-Mayor Paolo Duterte prevented the commotion from getting worse.

Another lumad leader Tumagsa “was told that they would be killed” said Karapatan in a press release.

“Tumagsa became prominent after the failed rescue, as he was photographed while in the frontlines of those who formed a human barricade to deter the entry of the police,” said Karapatan.

“We are not afraid. Why would we be afraid? We have done nothing wrong,” Bay-ao said.

“They can kill us all they want, but what will they gain? Anyway, it would be better for us to die than to cower in fear, or to join the Alamara,” Tumagsa said as quoted by Karapatan. (davaotoday.com)

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